Winning the Harbour Depth Race



Abbas Sarmad, PE, D.PE, Global Director of ports and marine practice, AECOM, New York, United States


Who sets the requirements?

Market competitiveness pushes a continuous requirement for seaports to adapt. One significant challenge is to provide adequate navigation depth for future deeper-draft vessels that are being brought on-line by shipping companies. The requirement for deeper harbours can also emerge from evolving sea route characteristics, such as the enlarged Panama Canal that opens opportunities for ports to capture new markets and calls by today’s large ships. Often, port directors and terminal managers are lagging in the race to be positioned and ready for deeperdraft vessels. The demands for deeper harbours and ports can be fast moving, but the ability to plan, design, permit, and dredge harbours is typically prolonged and arduous. In many instances, the timeline can be more than a decade from initiating plans to deepen port channels, turning basins and berths until dredging completion. Virtually every developed country has instituted rigorous environmental requirements that prolong the timeline for dredging projects. These requirements include testing sediment quality, analysing biological and physical impacts, evaluating alternatives for dredging sediments and placement of material, and considering the long-term implications of maintenance dredging. But these requirements do not stand alone as reasons for long lead times for dredging projects. Engineering considerations can also be problematic, such as when harbour deepening may be adjacent to existing piers and wharves whose structural integrity will be lost if the adjacent seabed is lowered; existing operations within the port may not allow efficient dredging construction; and the affected seabed substrates may be rock rather than overlying silts…

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